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Rethinking Roots Of Dyslexia

Professor Joshua Silver demonstrates how self-adjusting eyeglasses work. From the CBS Evening News, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010.
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Problems sorting through competing sounds, letters, and other "noise" may cause the reading problems associated with dyslexia, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings offer new clues about the roots of dyslexia and disprove the theory that problems in visual processing cause the spelling and reading problems suffered by dyslexics.

Instead, the study suggests that a more general problem in sensory perception caused by misfiring neurons in the brain makes it harder for children with dyslexia learn how to read. The misfiring neurons make it more difficult for dyslexics to pick out the relevant visual and sound cues from the surrounding "noise" and read effectively.

"If a child has a hard time ignoring 'noise,' it could distort speech perception and complication [the recognition] of sound segments, which is essential for learning how to read," says researcher Anne Sperling of Georgetown University Medical Center in a news release.

Getting to the Roots of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects about 5%-10% of U.S. children. The condition has little impact on spoken language but seriously impairs the ability to read and often causes sufferers to spell words or parts of words backwards.

In the 1920s, researches proposed that the problem was caused by vision problems. Fifty years later, researchers increasingly thought that dyslexic reading problems were caused by the inability to blend component sounds within a word.

Researchers say that for some reason, children with dyslexia do not develop the knowledge that spoken words consist of these sound components known as phonemes.

For example, children need to understand that words like "bat" consist of three sounds (buh, aah, and tuh). That knowledge makes it easier to read and pronounce letters.